Don Marti

Tue 24 Feb 2009 10:36:23 AM PST

Back from SCALE

I'm back from SCALE. Excellent mix of speakers, including a lot of the usual suspects. Really good talk about the Bilski decision from Rob Tiller, patent attorney at Red Hat. I wrote it up for LWN. When a dissenting judge writes, "For the thousands of inventors who obtained patents under the court's now-discarded criteria, their property rights are now vulnerable," I can only think of it as good news.

If you dig John Taylor Gatto, you'll like what Earth Treasury is doing with open source textbooks. Ed Cherlin covered that in his talk. "Children are taught to be helpless in schools," he said. What you really want is to teach them to organize around problems and solve them.

My web site is obsolete now that I've been to Christopher Blizzard's talk on new Mozilla features. Separate threads for JavaScript, which isn't quite process-per-tab, Google Chrome style, but looks like it will help; DNS pre-fetching, which looks useful but could be a sneaky way to do third-party cookies without making an HTTP connection, and of course the "video" and "audio" HTML tags. Very nifty demo of interaction between a video and some canvas elements. And there's XMLHttpRequest cross-site access control, so you don't need to source JavaScript from a site in order to do AJAX with it.

Daniel Baroco from Cedarlane Natural Foods covered a mix of technologies that the company uses, centered OpenMFG, which is proprietary but offers low-cost subscriptions. The rest of the items he covered were Free Software, including OpenLDAP and Samba, with pGina on the Microsoft boxes for authenticating from the OpenLDAP server. (Hmm, looks like pGina's maintainer is looking for a successor.) Asterisk for phones, with as a no-hassle VoIP provider.

It's not all butterflies and rainbows here. Ron Minnich from Coreboot, formerly LinuxBIOS, explains the BIOS problem. "There's this level below us that's suddenly become closed....Increasing BIOS complexity results in decreasing system security." Here's an interview with Ron from FOSDEM where he raises some of the same points. "Another important thing to realize about EFI is that it also contemplates enabling chipset features that will trap certain OS operations to an EFI-based control system running in System Management Mode. In other words, under EFI, there is no guarantee that the OS owns the platform." Anyway, that's a field to watch. If, say, Red Hat, wants to sell an OS that's capable of passing the iCommon Criteria process on the right hardware, does part of being the right hardware include support for a trustworthy BIOS?

The Subversion project had its community day, which went well. Not on my short list of tools I need to learn, but well-attended and informative. All I can think of at SCALE that could use improvement was two little things. In the show guide, somehow color-code the talk abstracts the same way as the track colors in the schedule, to make it easy to scan for the right abstract. And can we have an extra schedule board on the ground floor? See you all next year.